DA’s right to sue California Parole Board upheld


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The California Board of Parole Hearings’ effort to block the Colusa County District Attorney from challenging a state law has once again gone nowhere.

The 3rd District Court of Appeal of the State of California has denied the Parole Board’s Jan. 21 writ of prohibition that could have directed a lower court to refrain from proceeding with Colusa County’s 2018 lawsuit that seeks to keep convicted killer Nathan Ramazzini from being granted a parole hearing.

Ramazzini was resentenced in October 2018 to life without parole for planning and executing Erik Ingebretsen, his childhood best friend, when both were just 16 years old.
SB 394, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2017, gives people sentenced as juveniles to life without the possibility of parole multiple chances to earn parole after serving just 25 years in prison.

Ramazzini, 39, becomes eligible for parole under the new law in July of 2021.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, on behalf of the Parole Board, claimed in a writ of prohibition that the Colusa County District Attorney does not have the proper authority to challenge a state law.

Presiding Justice Vance W. Raye, of the 3rd District Court of Appeal, disagreed, siding with the Sacramento County Superior Court’s decision last November to allow Colusa County to pursue the action.

District Attorney Matthew Beauchamp and Chief Deputy District Attorney Brendan Farrell filed the lawsuit on the grounds that SB 394 illegally ended a law previously established by voter initiative, which included the statute that required any amendments be passed by a two-thirds vote in each house of the state legislature.

Farrell maintains that California law allows only the electorate to amend an initiative statute without such a supermajority vote of the assembly.

While the Parole Board did not take the position that SB 394 is immune from judicial review, their petition claimed only that county district attorneys lack the proper authority to sue the state on behalf of the people.

“Allowing district attorneys to invoke the power of the People to file writs against the Board would give district attorneys a greater role in the parole process than contemplated by the Legislature or the voters,” Becerra’s petition states.

The Parole Board claims that while Colusa County’s lawsuit is the only case challenging SB 394, the state believes it is “part of a larger trend in which district attorneys have challenged recently enacted criminal justice reforms.”

Becerra cited the 2019 challenge of SB 1391, relating to the transfer of minors under age 16 to adult court, and SB 1437, which amended the felony murder rule.

“Absent a decision clearly establishing that district attorneys lack authority to file stand-alone challenges to state laws, these challenges may well increase and expand in scope,” Becerra’s petition states.

Had the court sided with Becerra in the Colusa County matter, the Parole Board anticipated that it would “help resolve similar cases in the future.”

Farrell said that while there is no guarantee that Colusa County’s lawsuit will prevail, at least it will be heard in a Sacramento County court on its merits.

“That is good news,” Farrell said.

As for the 2019 challenges to SB 1391 and SB 1437, the 3rd District Court of Appeal has upheld that the state’s new criminal reform laws are constitutional, essentially opening the door for hundreds of inmates to get their sentences for first-degree murder reduced. ■